The farm says it is hoping to reduce the state’s dependence on imported fertilizer.

Hawaii’s biggest egg producer says its manure treatment operation is back up and operating after a Department of Health inspection prompted concerns about its management.

The inspection revealed that Waialua Fresh Eggs on Oahu was not converting the thousands of pounds of manure its birds produce each day into biochar, a dry charcoal-like fertilizer.

The facility was instead stockpiling manure in a vacant barn, which food safety and environment groups say poses a serious threat to residents’ safety and water resources. A February DOH Clean Water Branch inspection confirmed the biochar machine was not being used and manure was stacking up.

Waialua Fresh Eggs had highlighted the conversion of tons of chicken manure to a dry soil additive as part of its initial management plan. An inspection in February found it had been stockpiling the waste instead. (Thomas Heaton/Civil Beat/2021)

The Center for Food Safety said the farm’s manure management has been misrepresented for the past two years after it had previously highlighted biochar in its operating plan.

Stockpiling manure was “not a tenable solution,” according to Center for Food Safety senior attorney Sylvia Wu.

But the farm has restarted its biochar operation and it has been back up and running for a couple months, according to Waialua Fresh farm manager Avery Barry. “The challenges related to the biochar have been addressed and will not affect our ability to comply with regulations and safely manage the manure produced at the farm,” he said.

Hawaii’s humidity posed an issue for the biochar machine, which had been resolved by drying the manure before processing it, Barry says. The backlogged waste had also been addressed.

Villa Rose says it wants to reduce the state’s dependence on imported fertilizer by ramping up production of biochar, a safe dry byproduct of chicken manure. (Thomas Heaton/Civil Beat/2023)

Waialua Fresh Egg Farm is jointly run by mainland-based Hidden Villa Ranch and Rose Acre Farms, operating in Hawaii under the name Villa Rose since late 2021.

Villa Rose estimates the state imports more than one million pounds of manure for farming annually and Barry says Villa Rose is exploring relationships with local composting outfits to use its manure to produce more farm fertilizer.  

The concentrated animal feeding operation – known in the industry as a CAFO – currently has about 140,000 laying hens, but that number is set to expand since avian flu outbreaks on the mainland have driven up demand for local eggs.

  • ‘Hawaii Grown’ Special Series

The potential growth in the number of hens at the facility underscores the need for an environmental impact statement, according to Chad Buck, CEO of the state’s largest local food distributor Hawaii Foodservice Alliance.

“Hawaii has seen firsthand how projects can end up harming our environment and our families when there is little to no oversight, impact studies, or transparency with the surrounding communities,” Buck said.

Hawaii State Department of Health did not respond to a request for comment.

State Needs To Keep Tabs, Observers Say

Hawaii has had other issues with CAFOs, with two of Hawaii’s dairies closing in the past decade due to violations of the Clean Water Act.

A bill introduced at this year’s legislative session aimed to phase out all large CAFO operations from the state. The Waialua egg farm is the only operation that would have been impacted. The bill failed.

Joseph Realdine, a food safety consultant with decades of experience as a U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector, has been concerned about the Waialua operation for more than a year. He raised concerns with the state in May last year, and received a lethargic response, he said.

Avian flu on the mainland has created increased demand for local eggs, but the state’s largest producer is still reliant on imported chicks and feed. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

The state needs to make sure that the operation has resumed biochar production, and monitor the manure management plans, Realdine said.

“In the absence of regulatory oversight, we don’t know. We want not only more oversight but more transparency,” he said.

That concern is shared by The Center for Food Safety. “We don’t have more information in terms of what the state is doing,” according to attorney Wu.

Buck is a strong critic of the operation and questions how it represents itself as a sustainable operation, given it relies on imported chicks and feed to operate.

“If the imported additives stop – the eggs stop. It is hard to imagine how anyone could call this ‘sustainable agriculture’,” Buck said.

Hawaii Grown” is funded in part by grants from Ulupono Fund at the Hawaii Community Foundation and the Frost Family Foundation.

Help power our public service journalism

As a local newsroom, Civil Beat has a unique public service role in times of crisis.

That’s why we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content, so we can get vital information out to everyone, from all communities.

We are deploying a significant amount of our resources to covering the Maui fires, and your support ensures that we can pivot when these types of emergencies arise.

Make a gift to Civil Beat today and help power our nonprofit newsroom.

About the Author